I’m not sure that she is physically weaker in the MCU. Remember, Natasha’s first appearances were as a mastermind supervillain in the 1960s. She didn’t fight at all in her first few appearances, and needed Clint to bail her out of basic physical dangers:
Eventually she got gizmos she could fight with, but Natasha didn’t really become a master of hand to hand combat until the early 1970s, and she wasn’t alone in this. Marvel was pretty reluctant to give women punchy-stabby powers in the Silver Age, and it wasn’t until the 1980s, with characters like Elektra and She-Hulk, that we saw female characters really defined by their combat prowess. As a result, Natasha’s spent quite a few decades as a competent planner and operative but a pretty second-rate fighter.
It’s only recently, with more stories that have focused on Natasha alone, that we’ve really gotten to a place where could fight Elektra to a standstill. There were plenty of messageboards that thought that was OOC when that happened, anon. And that was in 2010!
The point is: comic books are all over the place with physical abilities. There’s stuff comic book Natasha does all the time that probably isn’t technically possible, like swinging around on a tiny wire attached to her wrist. But if 616 Natasha has done more impossibly badass things than her comic book counterpart (see: the first issue of the Samnee/Waid run), then she’s also had much lower lowpoints. MCU Natasha came in with a set level of badass that they haven’t really deviated from.
If one thing frustrates me it’s that the MCU seems really set on defining Steve/Bucky as on another physical level. The Super Soldier Serum gives vaguely defined “peak human” abilities in comics, which are of course fantastic and unbelievable, but basically every comic book character is an Olympic level athlete in like five different sports, which is a roughly equal degree of nonsense. And thanks to the nature of the medium, you don’t really seewhich characters are punching hardest or running faster the way you do in comic books, so I always pictured characters like Bobbi, Steve, and Batman to be on the same basic level regardless of minor chemical tweaking. Like, sure, maybe Steve would win in a marathon, but how often does that really come up in the day to day business of Nazi-punching?
But I’m also a weirdo who doesn’t need or even want her favs to be their most powerful selves. I’m still low-key annoyed MCU Bucky is even a super soldier.
Panel from Tales of Suspense #57 by Stan Lee and Don Heck.